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Interview with Diario de Cuba Editor Pablo Diaz

Interview with Diario de Cuba Editor Pablo Diaz
October 14, 2014
“You can’t do good journalism if you’re thinking in terms of Left or Right.”
By Yusimi Rodríguez

HAVANA TIMES — Diario de Cuba (DDC) was born at a Starbucks in Madrid in
2009. Its creators, Pablo Diaz (editor in chief) and a group of Cuban
journalists, artists and intellectuals, wanted to develop a forum that
would contribute to public and democratic debates among Cubans, beyond
the issue of human rights.

Pablo Diaz: There were already a lot of projects dealing with the
violation of human rights in Cuba and we wanted to tackle politics,
sports, culture and general opinion. Our goal was to create what a
democratic society would consider a news media, in order to help
reconstruct Cuban society. Those were and continue to be our objectives.
We see the variety and scope of information in Cuba as deficient. The
Castro regime has controlled and manipulated information vigorously. New
technologies are a tool we can use to topple the two pillars that I
believe have sustained Castroism: the destruction of civil society and
the manipulation of information.

Pablo, 44, was born in Cuba and lived in the former German Democratic
Republic for several years, seeing the fall of socialism there. His
father, the Cuban novelist, screenwriter and filmmaker Jesus Diaz,
founded the magazine Encuentro con la Cultura Cubana. Pablo founded and
managed the news portal Cubaencuentro from 2000 to 2009. Interviewing
him has given me the opportunity to learn more about a site that Cuba’s
limited Internet access prevents me from accessing regularly (even
though the page isn’t blocked by the government), a site that some
describe as right-wing.

HT: Some people in Cuba consider DDC a right-wing site. What is your
opinion about this?

Pablo Diaz: First, I should clarify that I would see nothing wrong with
being right-wing. I believe the world’s Left, in general, and the Cuban
Left in particular, has assumed a kind of moral superiority that’s
baseless. It would benefit Cuban society to recover a balance between
Left and Right in the future, a cultured Right with proposals for the
nation as a whole. This should not be demonized. All Cubans with
right-wing positions who have suffered repression should be invited to
take part in a broad, public debate in Cuba.

Having said that, I believe that the Left-Right debate is quite an
archaic topic today. In Cuba, it has greater weight than in the rest of
the world because the political panorama there is fairly archaic.
Basically, we take a position on specific situations – sometimes, with
more progressive stances and sometimes with more conservative ones.
Given DDC’s position on gay marriage and the rights of the gay and other
communities, its constant concern over racism, social equity and the way
in which Cuba is drifting towards State capitalism, one has to have
fairly misguided notions about what is left-wing and what is right-wing
to classify the site that way. In Castro’s Cuba, people make such
classifications on the basis of one’s position vis-à-vis the Castro
regime. If that regime is left-wing, then the members of DDC would be
proud right-wing activists.

HT: Would DDC concern itself with racism and the rights of the gay
community if the Cuban government hadn’t failed at eliminating the
former and repressed homosexuals?

Pablo: The issue of racism predates the current Cuban government. It is
one of the central issues of the independence struggles, the Cuban
republic and revolution. The Castro government has discontinued social
debates surrounding the issue, it has manipulated it.

HT: Do you recognize no progress in this issue made by the government in
comparison to earlier governments?

Pablo: Must we continue judging the government on the basis of what it
did better or worse than previous regimes more than fifty years ago?
Isn’t that enough to evaluate a political phenomenon? The question isn’t
what the Castro regime did nor did not do in 1959, but what it is doing
today to eradicate racism in Cuba. If we don’t approach the matter this
way, we run the risk of continuing to talk about what happened or didn’t
happen in the past, when the old men who are mismanaging the country
today took power.

As for gay rights, this is an issue around the world. The Castro
government repressed homosexuals, but, in other countries where no
expressly repressive policies were in place, homosexuals were denied
many rights for a very long time also. These aren’t exclusively
anti-Castro issues. We are concerned about them because they haven’t
been solved in our society.

The debate surrounding the Left and Right in Cuba is also determined by
one’s position towards the US embargo, towards political alliances in
general. Is Fidel Castro, someone who became an ally of Videla’s, the
Argentine dictator, so as to secure his support at the UN, left-wing?
When you deal with a dictatorship like Cuba’s, which has dismantled
civil society and weakened the country, making it dependent on foreign
powers, I think that debating about whether his government is left or
right wing is entirely puerile.

HT: Another argument against the claim that DDC is a right-wing page
would be that it publishes left-wing thinkers like Pedro Campos and
Armando Chaguaceda. Do you see a contradiction anywhere? Couldn’t that
be a way of giving readers a semblance of plurality, of avoiding the
right-wing label?

Pablo Diaz: DDC has published at least fifty articles with perspectives
that can be classified as left-wing. We recently published an article by
Enrique Herrero, from Cubanow, calling for the lifting of the embargo.
It was completely left-wing. What are Cuba’s left-wing publications?
Granma? Any official Cuban media you can think of? The editorials in DDC
are its voice. Could anyone call them right-wing?

HT: Would you publish articles in favor of the Cuban government?

Pablo Diaz: No. It’s a totalitarian dictatorship that has separated and
murdered Cubans. It has denied them the right to express themselves, to
organize, to create independent press media. They have all the media and
platforms they could want. Why would we give them part of the limited
space we have as a publication by Cuban émigrés?

HT: You’ve said that one of the things that places you on the Left or
Right in Cuba is the issue of the blockade, which you call “embargo”.
Why? What is DDC’s position on this?

Pablo: The word “blockade” is one the many examples of semantic
manipulation perpetrated by the Castro government. A blockade on an
island is physical, an embargo is something else. Cuba can trade with
any country in the world, even with the United States today. DDC’s
position is that the ones most interested in discussing the embargo are
those in the Cuban government, for it is a means of avoiding any
discussion about the essence of the Castro regime. Cuba’s problem is,
first of all, a problem among Cubans. Castroism has done a good job of
selling people the idea that the main problem is between Cuba and the
United States.

I consider the Cuban government co-responsible for the embargo. It has
had fifty years to get it removed. When it seized US interests without
compensating US citizens, as international law requires, it opted for
confrontation. Have we forgotten the arrogance of our political leaders
about the embargo, when the communist bloc still existed? The Cuban
government has been unable to reach an agreement with all US
administrations that could have negotiated. It has manipulated political
situations in order to maintain the embargo. This was evident with the
Carter administration, the Peruvian Embassy crisis, and during the
Clinton administration. We saw it again with the downing of the Brothers
to the Rescue planes. We’re seeing it now with Alan Gross. It’s a
political game designed by the leadership to keep Cuban society from
demanding that it assume a quota of responsibility for this disaster.

HT: You saw the fall of East Germany. To what extent do you think we are
from seeing democratic change in Cuba?

Pablo: Quite far. It will require more than getting rid of the Castro
regime, it will take several generations. It requires a cultural,
educational and mental change, learning to respect contradictory
opinions and to debate in a civilized manner. After fifty years of
totalitarianism, Cuban society is ill. Arriving at a democracy worthy of
that name will be very difficult. Every day the Castros remain in power
makes the process more difficult and slower.

HT: Raul Castro promised to step down in 2018 and not to run for
president again.

Pablo: When the time comes, he could say something else. In a
totalitarian regime, where the entire press is under government control
and civil society is repressed, I don’t have any reason to believe in
this sudden democratic gesture. He could step down and place one of his
straw-men in office and retain power this way. A change in president
does not mean democracy. Democracy also requires freedom of expression,
of association, of the press, it means that politicians must serve the
people.

HT: In a more democratic context, what would DDC’s aims be?

Pablo Diaz: To contribute to consolidating democracy, governability and
social reconstruction. One of the tasks of the press is to promote civic
debate.

HT: In that context, would DDC hire journalists that have worked in
official Cuban newspapers?

Pablo Diaz: What’s important is the quality of the journalistic work.
Journalists who’ve worked in official Cuban media have already
contributed to DDC. I would not feel comfortable with journalists who
have been political spokespeople in totalitarian media, but, as for
professionals who have believed in their work without intentionally
contributing to repression, why not? The other important thing is for
their journalistic instincts to be intact. In northern Africa, you see
official journalists unable to do any other kind of journalism, after
years of being gagged back home.

HT: Cuba’s official media often question the financing of alternative
projects. Where does DDC get its funding?

Pablo Diaz: They should be ashamed to raise such questions, given the
fact that their economic management has been pathetic as a whole. The
notion that money is evil, promoted by Castroism, must be eliminated in
Cuba. DDC secures more and more money through publicity and uses it to
cover its investments on a monthly basis. We also receive funding from
private entrepreneurs, Cuban and not, and public funds from the United
States and Spain.

HT: You admit you receive funding from the United States?

Pablo Diaz: They’re public funds made available through competitions
whose results are published on the web. There’s nothing secret about it.

HT: ¿Those who finance DDC don’t decide the publication’s interests or
what people write?

Pablo Diaz: I’ve noticed what little people in Cuba, and you, know about
what financial support for a publication means, and what its editorial
staff does, but that’s to be expected after fifty years of
totalitarianism. For those who offer a publication public or private
funds to have an influence on its content, according to the Cuban
government, all of those people and organizations would need to have the
same interests. It would be unheard-of. The day one of the many and
different sources of funding tries to impose conditions on us, we would
no longer accept their support. That is how things work in the
democratic world. The Cuban government receives support from Spanish, US
and other foundations, but it continues to instill its population with
totally aberrant notions.

The issue of interests within the media should also be tackled without
prejudices. We do have an interest. Our agenda consists in going at the
jugular of the Castro regime.

HT: Doesn’t that get in the way of rigorous journalism?

Pablo Diaz: Castroism means the absence of democracy, of freedom of the
press, association and expression. Castroism is an obscenity.

HT: How do you explain the fact that the DDC website isn’t blocked in
Cuba, while Cubaencuentro and Cubanet are?

Pablo Diaz: DDC was created after those two, one of which I founded and
edited. It was created at a time in which the ideological battle being
waged by the Castro government has eased up considerably. You mentioned
this morning that they have admitted Cuba’s future will not be one of
equity. Another reason could be that the points of view expressed by DDC
on a daily basis are far more complex than those offered in other media.
They address the opposition, but they also address the different
currents within the Cuban leadership. At any rate, we would have to ask
the censors that question. It makes less sense to censor a webpage
today, because we have social networks.

HT: Diario de Cuba is the most widely-read site about Cuba today.
Currently, it also operates a radio station, DDC-Radio, which airs a
weekly program called Cubakustica FM. What do you attribute its success to?

Pablo Diaz: To the tireless efforts the staff and contributors have been
making for five years, and to our editorial policy.

HT: Would you like to add anything?

Pablo Diaz: I would clarify other things if this was a different kind of
project, but a press publication speaks for itself. I invite people to
read it and to think about labels. You can’t do good journalism if
you’re thinking in terms of Left or Right.

Source: Interview with Diario de Cuba Editor Pablo Diaz – Havana
Times.org – http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=106723

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